Like most thirteen-year-olds, independent India in 1960 was undergoing radical physical changes. A pubertal spurt of modernist construction was under way—from Chandigarh in the North to the LIC building in Madras. Emblematic of this adolescent transformation was New Delhi’s Indian International Centre, for it was here, during 1960, that the foundational principles of Nehru’s modernist vision were assuming a concrete form. Avoiding the grandiose pomp of late colonial architecture and the curlicued ornamentation of traditional Indian building, the IIC was an elegant, low-rise assemblage of geometric forms encapsulating the rational, planned beauty and democratic accessibility of modern India. Its purpose was emblematic too. Intended as a meeting point for a cosmopolitan liberal intelligentsia, it signalled India’s commitment to the third way—non-aligned internationalism. But even as it was being built, the heady idealistic inspiration behind the IIC was evaporating. Nehru was fading, and with him the dream of planning. Democracy was generating more rancour than rationality, and foreign policy began to veer sharply from internationalist third-way-ism to keen alignment with the USSR. 1960 was, then, not so much the zenith of Nehruvianism, but its tipping point.
In 1960, Nehru discovered the perils of walking the third-way tightrope he’d thrown between consensual socialism and international non-alignment. By 1959, it had become painfully clear that the ambitions of the imminent third five-year plan would fail for lack of funds. Salvation, Nehru claimed, lay in emulating China. Currently elevated by their Great Leap Forward, the Chinese were reporting miraculous increases in agricultural productivity to plan-smitten Indian officials. Investment shortfalls would be irrelevant if only India’s underemployed peasants could be harnessed into a great network of cooperatives. But almost at once, the cooperative idea ran onto the rocks of the re-energised Indian right and the unexpected nationalism of China—so recently hailed as India’s ‘bhai’. Unluckily for Nehru, his passion for a sinified economic policy had bloomed at the very moment that relations with China itself were unravelling. The smouldering Tibet issue had caught fire following the Dalai Lama’s flight for refuge in India, and the Indo-Chinese border question was about to explode.